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No Longer The Last Derelict House

November 27, 2023
by the gentle author


I am reading my short story ON CHRISTMAS DAY next Saturday 2nd December at 11am as part of the BLOOMSBURY JAMBOREE at the Art Workers’ Guild in Queens Square, WC1N 3AT.





Thirteen years ago I visited, 2 Wilkes St, the last derelict house in Spitalfields but this week I walked passed to discovered it has acquired – as if by magic – a splendid new doorcase, so sensitively made that it looks as if it were always there. This is visible evidence on the street of a long process of repair and now the house can no longer be said to be derelict, thanks to enlightened owner Rupert Hunt and talented architect Chris Williams.

Below you can read my original feature and photographs. I hope to follow this next year with pictures that show the interiors once repairs are complete.

In the meantime, you can follow the progress on Instagram @spitalfields1725



This is the view of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s spire of Christ Church seen from the weaver’s loft at the top of 2 Wilkes St – once the last derelict house in Spitalfields – which is currently in the process of conscientious repair.

Once upon a time people used to wander in these streets surrounding the shabby old church, savouring the romance of these ancient Huguenot houses that had seen better days and were then used as workplaces or left empty, but now those days are long gone

Most recently 2 Wilkes St served as a warehouse for Star Wholesale Cash & Carry. Previously, it had been a workplace with boards nailed over panelling, false ceilings added and layers of flooring concealing the original floorboards. Behind all these accretions, the old structure remained intact and when the additions were removed, along with some of the fabric – in a former abortive restoration attempt – no-one bothered to dispose of any of the timber from the house. The piles that lay around comprised the missing pieces of an enormous three dimensional jigsaw just waiting to be put back together. Elsewhere in Spitalfields, old properties have been turned upside down and stripped out, removing all evidence of the previous occupants, yet as a consequence of benign neglect, 2 Wilkes St existed as an eighteenth-century time capsule.

Stepping through the door, I was amazed by the multilayered textures that were the result of human activity throughout the long history of the building, especially the flaking paint that revealed every single coat through back three centuries. The house has a presence that halts you in your step and you lower your voice without knowing why. You stand and gaze. The reflected light from the street falls upon dusty old floorboards visibly worn beside the windows where people have stood in the same spot to look down upon Wilkes St since the seventeen-twenties – when the house was built by William Taylor, who was responsible for the house next door and several others in the vicinity.

Ten years ago, the central staircase of the house was rebuilt with the original treads on wooden bearers that support each step in the traditional method, starting at the bottom and working all the way up – just as a joiner would have done in the eighteenth-century, when all carpenters did their work on site.

Descended into the dark musty cellar by torchlight, I could see my own breath in the air as I entered a kitchen where the beam of light fell upon eighteenth-century match-boarding and a flag floor. The torchlight caught portions of an old dresser and a stone sink, beneath layers of dust, grit and filth – abandoned since the nineteenth century.

On the first floor, an intermediary space off the stairwell links rooms on either side, divided from them by partitions – this is a rare example of a powder room. Any of Henry Fielding’s characters would recognise this space.

Of all the old houses in Spitalfields, this is the one that has most retained its soul. The house holds its own silence and the din of the contemporary world is drowned out by it. 2 Wilkes St possesses the authentic atmosphere of old London that Fielding and Dickens knew, yet which can all too easily be destroyed forever. All these years it has been waiting for someone with the knowledge, money and patience to repair it and bring it back to life without erasing its history – and now this moment has arrived.

Eighteenth century staircase spindles

The view along the back gardens of Fournier St

2 Wilkes St

You may also like to read about

Before & After in Fournier St

A Renovation in Fournier St

All Change at 15 & 17 Fournier St

At Anna Maria Garthwaite’s House

At Ben Truman’s House

6 Responses leave one →
  1. Karen Rennie permalink
    November 27, 2023

    My Dad, one of 5 born at 47 Wilkes Street in 1908
    saw a very different East End.

  2. November 27, 2023

    I am sitting here with my morning coffee in raptures. What a gift, to be able to look at the bones of a historic building and see the whole space in one’s mind! It is a talent I wish I possessed.

    I’m thrilled to know this beautiful old building is coming back to life and I’m looking forward to following its progress. Thank you, G.A., for a bright spot in an otherwise unpromising day.

  3. November 28, 2023

    I love to see historic properties sympathetically restored but brought into 21st century use. Another house saved – wonderful stuff!

  4. Cherub permalink
    November 28, 2023

    If I had that view of the church every day I’d be inspired by its beauty.

  5. Rondeau Baker permalink
    November 28, 2023

    Hello from Whitby Ontario Canada!
    Our Rondeau family ancestors lived next door to this house.
    At 4 Wilkes St. in the 1700’s.
    It was destroyed by Nazi bombs in World War II.
    Our gr gr gr gr grandfather Jean Rondeau served as Sexton of Christ Church Spitalfields
    for 29 years.
    Thanks to the GA for all your interesting posts.
    Rondeau Baker

  6. Susan permalink
    December 2, 2023

    Thank you so much for this fascinating journey! I do hope that whoever now owns this and is restoring it will live in it, rather than sell it.

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